Recognizing 'invisible heroes' among us

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BRATTLEBORO — Throughout his career as a documentary photographer, Michael Poster has created portraits of communities, often spending years getting to know his subjects and developing the trust required to take their pictures and record their stories. Poster's projects have included documenting life in a Pennsylvania town thrown into upheaval by gas fracking, and on Basin Farm, a messianic community in Bellows Falls.

When he's not documenting communities around the country, Poster, who struggled in the late 1960s with a heroin addiction, is a volunteer at Turning Point of Windham County in Brattleboro, where he facilitates group recovery meetings.

"When I'm not facilitating group recovery meetings, I take photographs of the people I meet at the center and listen to their stories," wrote Poster, in a blog post on the website of Brattleboro Museum and Art Center.

"They have lived through childhood trauma, committed crimes, served long prison sentences, or struggled through multiple detox treatments. They have watched friends and loved ones die from overdose, survived overdose themselves after receiving emergency Narcan treatment, or lost children to state agencies because of their addictions."

Poster's photographs are on display at the museum through Jan. 7 in an exhibit entitled "If she has a pulse, she has a chance."

"Michael's photo-graphs are accompanied by 'as told to' narratives, expanding our understanding of how the demanding work of recovery requires hope, empathy, compassion, and the support of a robust community," stated BMAC Chief Curator Mara Williams, in a press release.

"My friends and I have a few things in common," wrote Poster, who lives in Dummerston. "We'd been addicted to drugs or alcohol, had engaged in criminal behavior, and had pretty much been given up on by society. But now we are in recovery, living productive lives, and working to help others find their own paths to recovery. We are trained recovery coaches, meeting facilitators, or program coordinators."

Tonight, at 7 p.m., Poster and BMAC Director Danny Lichtenfeld will discuss Poster's work, and on Tuesday, Dec. 4, at 4:30 p.m., the museum is hosting a reception to recognize community members who support individuals and families in recovery. On Dec. 13, the museum is hosting a panel discussion on the state of addiction and recovery in the Brattleboro area. All three events are free and open to the public.

"The focus of the reception on Tuesday is on getting people connected with addiction recovery to attend — human services folks, family members and peers of those in recovery, etc.," said Konstantin von Krusenstiern, vice president of strategy and development at the Brattleboro Retreat.

"As we were planning the Michael Poster exhibit and related events, we became aware of the many different players who help make recovery possible — supportive peers, mental health and treatment providers, medical professionals, first responders, counselors, employment and housing specialists, alternative therapists, recovery coaches, family members, and many others," said BMAC Director Danny Lichtenfeld. "We thought it would be nice to do something to honor them, to recognize the tremendous service they are providing in our community."

The Dec. 4 event will include live music, refreshments provided by Vermont Country Deli and The Porch Too, and a guided tour of Poster's exhibit.

Though the identities of the subjects of his portraits remain confidential, the series of pictures was done with their "enthusiastic support," said Lichtenfeld. "It's less about the scourge of addiction and more about being hopeful in recovery."

Lichtenfeld said BMAC takes seriously its role facilitating discussions about issues affecting the community.

"In the course of planning the exhibit, we spent a lot of time talking with people, learning how recovery happens," he said. "For all of us here at the museum it was really eye-opening to learn about the different players who need to be involved in creating an ecosystem that makes recovery possible. It became very clear to us that there are all these people, these 'invisible heroes,' who make it possible. We thought it would be nice to find a way to celebrate and honor them."

But the Dec. 4 event is not just about the folks that guide recovering addicts, it's also about helping to remove the stigma attached to those suffering from addiction, said Lichtenfeld.

"Being in recovery is an incredibly hard thing," he said. "On the one hand, we want to thank and honor the professionals, family members and peers supporting people in recovery, but we also want to recognize, appreciate and honor the incredibly hard work people are doing while in recovery."

BMAC received support for "If she has a pulse, she has a chance" from the Thomas Thompson Trust, Vermont Arts Council and National Endowment for the Arts. It also received support from the Brattleboro Retreat, Turning Point of Windham County, Groundworks Collaborative, and Communicators Group. Major support for BMAC is provided by its members and Allen Bros. Oil, Brattleboro Savings & Loan, C&S Wholesale Grocers, the Four Columns Inn, Sam's Outdoor Outfitters, and Whetstone Station Restaurant & Brewery.

For more information, visit www.brattleboromuseum.org.

Turning Point provides a safe, supportive gathering place for all whose lives have been affected by addiction and are seeking to begin or strengthen their individual path in recovery. Turning Point, a non-profit, non-member organization, is an inclusive center that offers peer support, education, meeting space, and resource options, as well as opportunities to socialize.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.

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